Laura Willoughby MBE is a serial social entrepreneur whose initiatives include Club Soda, ‘the mindful drinking movement’. She’ll be talking about her work helping people reduce their alcohol consumption at The Foodservice Show – including how venues can adapt to this fantastic business opportunity. Here’s her guide to making money from mindful drinking.
1 - Learn the Size of the Market
Tesco reports a 30% increase in sales of no and low alcohol drinks in the past year. The volume sold in pubs, bars, restaurants and shops across the UK in the same period was the equivalent of 12.2 million pints, and the two major lager launches in the area (Heineken 0.0 and Budweiser Prohibition) boasted combined sales of over £6.5 million alone.
Drinking rates among British adults are at their lowest for 18 years, and a quarter of 16-24 year olds drink no alcohol. In general, it’s thought that at least one in five of us is trying to reduce or minimise their alcohol intake. And it’s important to bear in mind that customers aren’t necessarily going teetotal; many are simply drinking a bit less. Why? Healthier lifestyles, religious preference
“With Club Soda we wanted to create something that was like Weightwatchers for booze,” says Laura, “Some of our members are moderating. Some are alcohol free [or ‘AF’]. Some flip-flop between the two, and others are simply taking six months or a year off.”s, and push-back against the booze-fuelled professional networking culture all play a part.
It’s not just alcoholic drinks that customers are looking for alternatives to. Traditional fizzy drinks, with a high sugar content, are going out of fashion fast and the new alcohol-free drinks coming on to the market offer a sophisticated choice in this regard, too.
2 - Discover the New Products
“Improving technology means better beers and wines are being created,” says Laura, “Eins Zwei Zero, stocked by Waitrose, is a fantastic wine and some of the low-alcohol beers on offer have beaten their regular equivalents.”
Low-alcohol alternatives to wine and beer are only half the story, though. Perhaps the most exciting new drinks coming through the market are ‘botanicals’ such as Ceders – now owned by Pernod Ricard – and Seedlip, recently snapped up by Diageo. While they’re low in alcohol, they’re high in aspiration and appeal to a fashionable, quality-conscious, high spending customer.
Plus, Kombucha is a healthy, naturally fizzy probiotic drink that’s also 0.5% alcohol content, and is appearing on tap in some venues.
“I’m also passionate about where we can place adult cordials in hospitality,” says Laura, “premixed cordials take up a lot of space in the fridge where alcohol-free beers could go. Other interesting new ventures include Square Root 0.5% shandy, and Teetotal G&T’s new Cuba Libre. According to our research, the next area to be examined is dark spirits like whisky and rum.”
3 - Believe in the Opportunities
“Do not underestimate the alcohol free market,” says James Daley of The Draft House pub group, “as people have become more savvy with what they eat, they also look at what they are drinking. Our food menu has got plenty of vegan, vegetarian, gluten free and calorie-light options these days, and so our drink menu has choices too.”
Not only can savvy venues cater to changing habits, they can exploit long-neglected opportunities too. “Why serve free tap water to groups having lunch when you can up-sell them an adult cordial or a Seedlip and tonic?” says Laura.
Margins are generous as there’s no alcohol duty to be paid. Plus, the products are adapting to the marketplace quickly: “in Finland, where the market’s growing especially fast, they favour half bottles of alcohol-free wine. So if a venue is only selling one or two glasses per day, they’re not wasting the remainder of the bottle.”
Non-drinkers have money in their pockets, and they’ll spend it in your venue if you obtain their loyalty. “Now that I don’t drink, I’ll always have dessert,” says Laura, “and I’m usually the designated driver! If you offer me a choice, I’ll bring drinkers to your venue.”
4 - Remember It’s Not Just a London Thing
New developments, especially in food and drink, spread much more quickly these days as consumers are more connected thanks in part to the internet, and opinion formers are spreading out of key cities due to the high cost of living.
“We just held one of our mindful drinking festivals in Glasgow,” says Laura, “we’ve had requests to host them from all over the country – and in Australia.”
Muslim populations, where religious preferences are often against alcohol, exist the length and breadth of Britain.Moreover, “In the regions you’re much more likely to have customers who are driving – in Scotland especially, because of the tougher drink driving laws,” Laura adds.
5 - Talk to your Wholesalers and Educate Your Staff
Ordering ‘off book’ can be inconvenient. So ask your regular wholesaler to stock low-and-no alcohol products. “Wholesalers are the biggest issue,” says Laura, “they need to be selling a certain amount of product before it makes sense to them. They’re the gatekeepers, and this can stop a lot of exciting products coming through.”
Many of the boutique brands creating the next generation of low alcohol drinks don’t necessarily have the resources to provide essential education to staff members. Club Soda are stepping in. “A Seedlip and Fever Tree tonic is not a ‘down sell’ from a G&T, it’s an up-sell from a lemonade,” says Laura, “we understand how important training is here, and we’re currently making our own training videos that will available to view on our website in January 2019.”
6 - Get on the Club Soda Web App
Club Soda’s digital guide to both low and no alcohol drinks, and the venues which serve them, will also be launching during January 2019. “We built a prototype pub guide in 2015 as part of our ‘Nudging Pubs’ research project,” says Laura, “and this is a continuation. We’ve got some funding from the night time economy lobby, and we went face to face with 400 pubs and bars to discuss how to make it work. Drinkers will be able to click on, for example, Heineken 0.0 and it’ll show them where they can buy it. Likewise, venues will receive a user rating based on how well they cater for our members and others looking for alcohol alternatives.”